Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

I hate to ask……


“Unless you ask, the answer is already no”  Dutch saying

 How easy do you find it to ask for what you want? Do you find yourself getting into the “I wonder whether you’d mind awfully….” kind of patter? Perhaps you end up going round the houses in order to get your needs known or, worse still, manipulating the other person into giving you what you want?

 For so many of us, the straightforward simple request can feel excrutiatingly difficult.

 Lets take an everyday type request for a cup of tea:

 “I’m really thirsty, aren’t you?” (hint, hint)

“You’re not going anywhere near the kettle are you?”

“ You make the best tea….”

 Rather than:

 “Would you be up for  making me a cup of tea please?”

 When running programmes in persuading and influencing skills, I point out that the  act of making a straightforward request can often  immediately eliminate any perceived need to persuade or manipulate. It’s a simple contract: You ask and the other person says yes or no.

 Herein lies the first of two main reasons that people find it hard to ask in the first place.

 Fear of rejection.

 We fear the other person will say the dreaded “N” word: “NO”.

 However, usually it’s not about rejection, its more often than not to do with non-compliance. In other words the person is usually saying no because it does not suit them to accede to that request at that time. This distinction was first pointed out to me by Marshall Rosenberg – the originator of non violent communication (NVC) on one of his workshops. It helps eliminate the fear of rejection, because we realise that its usually not personal.

 The second reason we find it difficult to ask outright is a cultural one. This reason is not universal – it can differ from culture to culture, even from household to household. However, it “afflicts” a great many of us, especially in British culture.

 This is best described in the form of a story:

 Imagine you are five years old and visiting an elderly relative with your parents. You arrive at Great Aunt Maud’s house for Sunday afternoon tea.

 As you are ushered into her parlour you see a big crystal bowl atop the highly polished antique sideboard. The bowl is piled high with sweets. In that moment, what would any five year old like more than anything else? A sweet, of course. So, perfectly politely, with no hint of malice or aggression you say to Great Aunt Maud “May I have a sweet please?” The words have hardly spilled out of your mouth when a hand, attached to an arm, attached to a shoulder, attached to a vexed parent, clips you around the ear, accompanied by a phrase such as:

  “Wait until you’re offered”

“It’s rude to ask”

“Don’t be so cheeky”

 So, at that early age, we learn that it is somehow rude or inappropriate to directly ask for what we want. Crazy.

 Now, there’s a sting in the tail to this one: Mum, dad and great aunt Maud repair to the kitchen to brew up the PG Tips, butter the scones and slice up the Battenburg cake. You are left on your own in the parlour with a big bowl of sweets. What do you do?

 When recounting this imagined tale on courses the most common answer I get is: “Take some / as many as I can get away with”.

 Why? Is it because we are greedy or bad in some way? Or, is it more likely that we do it in order to feel a tad better, given how confused, hurt or angry we may feel at having been treated so unfairly?

 The simple contract around having the right to ask, along with the other party’s right to refuse becomes muddied and confused. We feel we need to resort to underhand and manipulative means in order to get our needs met.

 Fast forward 20, 30, 40 years and we see people tying themselves in all kinds of knots around simply asking for something. Most ironically, this all too often applies in the sales environment. Time and again I’ve seen salespeople role playing on courses or operating in the field and stumbling at that final point in the sale when they need to ask for the business.

 It’s so often a case of the inner “Aarrgghh!!” taking over as they clam up or try to use some clever “closing technique” in order to lessen the pain of having to ask! Yet, this is supposed to be the most positive of profassions! If it weren’t  sad it would be hilarious.

Yet, this doesn’t just apply to people in sales. Here’s a sobering thought – how many opportunities could we have missed out on,  just for the want of asking? I know I have.

 So, next time an opportunity arises for you to make a request of someone, notice how you might normally go about it, or if you even find yourself tempted to leave it. Take courage and have a go at being more direct instead. You may be surprised at the result – people often actually say yes and if not, it usually isn’t personal.

 Anyway, I hope you found this piece useful and, if you have then, I hate to ask, but I wonder whether you might perhaps mind awfully leaving a comment if you can, but if not don’t worry…….           


2 Responses to “I hate to ask……”

  1. Sound words, Chris. Waiting to be offered something was instilled in me during my childhood and I really only made the connection when I read your blog. I especially liked the clever “hand attached to an arm attached to a shoulder….etc.” Very descriptive!

  2. Hoda – glad it hit the spot for you. Something an awful lot of people seem to relate to – and not just from British culture.

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